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Athlon Sports ranked the best Pac-12 teams of the BCS era.
The BCS just put a bow on its 15th season of action and Athlon has dissected the numbers and reviewed the tapes of all six BCS conferences in order to rank the best each league has had to offer. Which Oklahoma team was the best of the decade? Which Florida team was the toughest to stop? How do you rank the Florida State teams of the late '90s? Which Miami team was the best? How about those loaded USC teams? Alabama vs. Auburn?
The debates will rage on for decades, but here is Athlon's two cents. Here are the Top 10 Pac-12 teams of the BCS Era (1998-present):
Note: "First Day" indicates 1st and 2nd round NFL Draft picks
1. USC Trojans, 2004 (13-0, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-12, Orange Bowl, National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (79.4 ypg) and turnover margin (+1.46), led the Pac-10 in scoring (38.2 ppg) and finished No. 3 nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg), USC did not rank below third in the Pac-10 in any of the 14 tracked team stats.
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Reggie Bush (Pac-10 Co-Off. Player of the Year), Shaun Cody (Pac-10 Co-Def. Player of the Year),
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009)
The best team in the Pac-10 since the BCS began might have been the best team in any league during the BCS era. After a split national title in 2003 with LSU, the Trojans entered 2004 as the No. 1 team in the nation. An opening weekend win over ACC champ Virginia Tech in Landover started what would become a magical ride to a BCS National Championship. The Trojans went wire to wire as the No. 1 team in the nation, claimed the Heisman Trophy and put together the most impressive national championship game in the brief history of the BCS. Quarterback Matt Leinart, in his second year under center and armed with an NFL roster full of skill players, led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (156.54) and finished with 3,322 yards and 36 total touchdowns (against only six interceptions). He capped his Heisman campaign with 332 yards and a BCS bowl record five touchdown passes in the destruction of unbeaten No. 2 Oklahoma. The two-headed rushing attack of LenDale White (1,108 yards, 15 TDs) and Reggie Bush (1,416 yards from scrimmage, 15 TDs) made it virtually impossible for anyone to stop the 2004 Trojans. Eighteen different Trojans from the 2004 BCS National Championship team were selected in the first or second rounds of the NFL Draft. This team had the stats, the resume, the undefeated title season, the NFL talent, a superstar coach and is the best Pac-10 team of the BCS era because of it.
2. USC Trojans, 2005 (12-1, 8-0)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Key Stats: Led the nation in total offense (579.8 ypg) and second in the country in scoring (49.1 ppg), Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards (222.3), allowed 467 yards of total offense to Vince Young in the BCS NCG
Award Winners: Reggie Bush (Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, Walter Camp, Pac-10 Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year), Matt Leinart (Johnny Unitas)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2008), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2008), Keith Rivers (1st, 2008), Fred Davis (2nd, 2008), Chilo Rachal (2nd, 2008), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2008), Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010)
The defending BCS National Champs returned largely intact for 2005 and began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. After beating five ranked teams — three of which came on the road — the Men of Troy claimed their fourth straight Pac-10 championship. Do-everything tailback Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards at 222.3 yards per game and claimed the Heisman Trophy — the second straight for USC (Leinart, 2004). A 513-yard performance and this touchdown run in a shootout win over a ranked Fresno State team likely clinched the stiff-arm trophy for the dynamic running back. After crushing rival UCLA, the Trojans finished the 2005 season having never left the No. 1 line in the polls. They carried a 34-game winning streak into the BCS National Championship game against Texas in what became the first time two Heisman winners ever played in the same backfield. Leinart threw for a title game record 365 yards, but the Trojans defense could not stop Vince Young in what is the greatest game ever played according to this college football writer. This team had 20 first or second round draft picks on the roster and were 19 seconds away from claiming their third straight national title.
3. USC Trojans, 2003 (12-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl, AP National Championship
Key Stats: Led the nation in rushing defense (60.2 ypg) and punting (43.7 ypp) and finished second nationally in turnover margin (+1.54), finished first or second in the league in 10 of 14 tracked team stats
Award Winners: Matt Leinart (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year), Pete Carroll (Home Depot Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Lofa Tatupu (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Reggie Bush (1st, 2006), LenDale White (2nd, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006), Steve Smith (2nd, 2007), Ryan Kalil (2nd, 2007), Lawrence Jackson (1st, 2008), Sam Baker (1st, 2007), Sedrick Ellis (1st, 2007), Terrell Thomas (2nd, 2007)
After starting the year by crushing No. 6 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium, USC reached No. 3 in the polls before a thrilling triple-overtime loss to Cal 34-31. USC dropped to 10th in the polls and never lost again. Led by first-year starter Matt Leinart, USC crushed Arizona State, Notre Dame, Washington and Arizona on the road and destroyed No. 6 Washington State at home by 27 points. The Trojans finished No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches' Poll at the end of the regular season, but was left out of the BCS championship game for Oklahoma (who got crushed by Kansas State 35-7 in the Big 12 title game). LSU went on to beat the Sooners and USC handled Michigan in the Rose Bowl with relative ease. The AP awarded the Men of Troy the National Championship while the BCS title went to the Bayou Bengals. It was the last split National Championship in college football. This team featured two Heisman Trophy winners and 16 "First Day" draft picks.
4. Oregon Ducks, 2010 (12-1, 9-0)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Key Stats: LaMichael James led the nation in yards rushing per game (144.3) and scoring (12.0 ppg); team led the nation in scoring offense (47.0 ppg) and total offense (530.7 ypg), Darron Thomas threw two key interceptions and the Ducks rushed for 75 yards in the BCS NCG.
Award Winners: LaMichael James (Doak Walker), Chip Kelly (Eddie Robinson, Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: N/A
One of the most powerful, explosive and fast-paced offenses in league history led the nation in scoring and total offense at 530.7 yards per game and 47.0 points per game. The Ducks' run at their first BCS title game began with a 35-point second half in Neyland Stadium against the Tennessee Vols. They scored at least 50 points in the next seven games until Chip Kelly led his team into Berkeley. The only test of the regular season came in the form of a sloppy 15-13 win over Cal that featured a defensive and special teams touchdown. After easy wins over Arizona and Oregon State, the Ducks squared off with Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers. The highest-scoring, most powerful team in school history (school-record 611 points) was held to 75 yards rushing on 32 carries while Auburn rolled up 254 yards on 50 attempts. Kelly came up three points short as the Tigers kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.
5. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the nation in scoring defense at 9.0 points allowed per game, also led the nation in pass defense (134.4 ypg) and pass efficiency defense as well. Finished No. 2 in total defense nationally (221.7 ypg).
Award Winners: Rey Maualuga (Bednarik, Pac-10 Def. Player of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Mark Sanchez (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Charles Brown (2nd, 2010), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Tyron Smith (1st, 2011)
After starting the season 2-0 and reaching No. 1 status, first-year starter Mark Sanchez and the Men of Troy got upset on a Thursday night in primetime by true freshman dynamo Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State Beaver. Rodgers ran for 186 yards and the Trojans dropped to No. 9 in the polls. They wouldn't lose again. USC punished ranked opponents Oregon and Cal and crushed rivals Notre Dame and UCLA en route to yet another Rose Bowl appearance. Penn State was no match for USC, losing 38-24. The offense was outstanding with Sanchez utilizing names like Damian Williams, Ronald Johnson, Joe McKnight and Patrick Turner. But the defense was downright unbeatable. One of the greatest linebacking corps in NCAA history — Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing — helped USC lead the nation in scoring defense. Eight teams failed to score more than seven points on the trio in 2008.
6. Oregon Ducks, 2012 (12-1, 8-1)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly
Championships: Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Marcus Mariota led the nation in road passing efficiency
Award Winners: Marcus Mariota (Pac-12 Off. Freshman of the Year),
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: N/A
Like many teams of late — Oklahoma State in 2011 or Boise State in 2010 — the 2012 Ducks were one field goal away from playing for the BCS National Championship. One overtime home loss to an elite Stanford team cost Chip Kelly another shot at the Crystal Ball. This was likely the best defense in Eugene since at least Haloti Ngata's tenure and the backfield was downright unstoppable. Marcus Mariota was the best road passer in the nation, Kenjon Barner shredded defenses and De'Anthony Thomas continues to prove he may be the most explosive player in the country. This team's resume is better than many think as it posted blowout wins over bowls teams Kansas State, Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and USC.
7. Washington Huskies, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Rick Neuheisel
Championships: Pac-10, Rose Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in rushing (211.7 ypg), topped an 11-1 Miami team 34-29
Award Winners: Marques Tuiasosopo (Pac-10 Off. Player of the Year, Rose Bowl MVP)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Marques Tuiasosopo (2nd, 2001), Jerramy Stevens (1st, 2002), Larry Tripplett (2nd, 2002), Tank Johnson (2nd, 2004)
In what might have been the most exciting and competitive season in modern Pac-10 football, a three way round robin tie between a 7-1 Oregon (who beat Washington 23-16 in Autzen Stadium) and a 7-1 Oregon State led to the Huskies earning the trip to Pasadena. Marques Tuiasosopo led Washington past a brutal non-conference slate that included one-loss Miami and head coach Rick Neuheisel's former employer Colorado. A 33-30 win over Oregon State — and an Oregon loss to the Beavers in the Civil War due to five Joey Harrington interceptions — helped U of W return to its first Rose Bowl since 1993. This embattled team and program was willing to do whatever it took to win — and win it did. Capped by a 34-24 win over Drew Brees' Purdue in the Rose Bowl, the Huskies won 11 games for the first time since Don James' national title team of 1991, and they haven't come close to touching 10 wins ever since.
8. Oregon State Beavers, 2000 (11-1, 7-1)
Head Coach: Dennis Erickson
Championships: Pac-10, Fiesta Bowl
Key Stats: Ken Simonton led the Pac-10 in rushing (134.0 ypg), OSU led the conference in total defense (314.4 ypg) and scoring defense (18.5 ppg).
Award Winners: Dennis Erickson (Pac-10 Coach of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Chad Johnson (2nd, 2001), Nick Barnett (1st, 2003), Dwan Edwards (2nd, 2004)
In what has to be considered the best Beavers team in program history, Dennis Erickson used a plethora of junior college talent to lead Oregon State to its first 10+ win season ever. The 11 wins are still a school record, and the conference co-championship was the first league title for the school since 1964. While the defense, led by NFL future star Nick Barnett, was the Pac-10's best, it was the offense that impressed the most. Quarterback Jonathan Smith was the league's No. 2 passer. Running back Ken Simonton led the league in rushing at 134 yards per game. And a pair of future NFL stars, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, keep defenses honest on the outside. The team's only loss came at the hands of eventual Rose Bowl champion Washington in Husky Stadium 33-30. Erickson's bunch wrapped up the magical year by crushing Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.
9. Stanford Cardinal, 2011 (11-2, 8-1)
Head Coach: David Shaw
Key Stats: Led the Pac-12 and was third nationally in rushing defense, Andrew Luck led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency
Award Winners: Andrew Luck (Pac-12 Off. Player of the Year), David Shaw (Pac-12 Coach of the Year)
"First Day" NFL Draft Picks: Andrew Luck (1st, 2012), David DeCastro (1st, 2012), Coby Fleener (2nd, 2011), Jonathan Martin (2011)
It is extremely difficult to separate the last three Cardinal teams and decide which one was the best. All three played in BCS bowls with two wins in the Orange Bowl (2010) and Rose Bowl (2012). The 2011 team lost to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and it didn't win the Pac-12 crown, however, it was likely the most talented and complete roster of the group. The foursome that was drafted in the first two rounds are as talented a group as any school ever has watched depart in one offseason. Add to the entire collection of defensive stars that made the 2012 team so talented and Cardinal fans will likely look back on their 2011 team as the best of the BCS era.
10. USC Trojans, 2002 (11-2, 7-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Championships: Pac-10, Orange Bowl
Key Stats: Led the Pac-10 in total offense (449.2 ypg), scoring offense (35.7 ppg), rushing defense (83.2 ypg), total defense (284.9 ypg), scoring defense (18.5 ppg) and passing efficiency (149.21).
Award Winners: Carson Palmer (Heisman Trophy, Johnny Unitas), Mike Williams (Pac-10 Freshman of the Year)
“First Day” NFL Draft Picks: Carson Palmer (1st, 2003), Troy Polamalu (1st, 2003), Kenechi Udeze (1st, 2004), Jacob Rogers (2nd, 2004), Keary Colbert (2nd, 2004), Mike Williams (1st, 2005), Shaun Cody (2nd, 2005), Matt Leinart (1st, 2006), Winston Justice (2nd, 2006)
The beginning of the Trojan-Pete Carroll reign over the West Coast could be marked by the 2002 Men of Troy. Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer finally lived up to his recruiting hype with 3,942 yards and 37 total touchdowns. And he did it against nine different ranked opponents. Early season losses on the road against a ranked Kansas State team by seven and a ranked Washington State team by three cost the Trojans a shot at the national title game. The Cougars actually played in the Rose Bowl (a 34-14 loss to Oklahoma), but USC finished as the highest-rated team in the league (#5) after a convincing 38-17 win over No. 3 Iowa in the Orange Bowl. This team sent 46 different players into the NFL and was obviously led on defense by huge names like Polamalu, Cody, Patterson and Udeze. Carroll won a share of his first national title the following season, but this '02 edition of Fight On started it all.
Best of the Rest:
Stanford Cardinal, 2012 (12-2, 9-0) Pac-12 Champions
Stanford Cardinal, 2010 (12-1, 8-1)
Oregon Ducks, 2001 (11-1, 7-1) Pac-10 Champions
UCLA Bruins, 1998 (10-2, 8-0) Pac-10 Champions
Oregon Ducks, 2011 (12-2, 9-1) Pac-12 Champions
USC Trojans, 2006 (11-2, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions
Oregon Ducks, 2009 (10-3, 8-1) Pac-10 Champions
USC Trojans, 2007 (11-2, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions
Cal Golden Bears, 2006 (10-3, 7-2) Pac-10 Champions